College of Arts and Sciences

Loving in Virginia

A teacher's work brings new life to an old case.


Caroline County, Virginia, 1958. Newlyweds Richard and Mildred Loving wake at 2 a.m. to the sound of their front door being kicked in. Before they are out of bed, the sheriff and two deputies place them under arrest. Their crime: Marriage. Richard, a white man, and Mildred, a black and American Indian woman, had violated Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which prohibited interracial marriage. They plead guilty, are convicted on felony charges, and are banished from Virginia. The Lovings spend the next nine years trying to get home.

Most students in historian Grace Hale’s Southern History seminars find it difficult to believe that the Loving’s story is factual, and perhaps even more extraordinary that such events occurred only 55 years ago. Yet in June of 1958, 24 states, including Virginia, prohibited interracial marriage. With Hale they talk through the Voting Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1965. But these topics, important in their own right, capture only a portion of the important history she teaches. For Hale, the history comes more alive through the story of the Lovings and their nine-year battle that resulted in the 1967 Supreme Court Decision that invalidated all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage. Though she has taught the case for some time, only recently has it carried more weight to her. Just last year, HBO premiered The Loving Story, a documentary that tells the Loving’s dramatic tale, for which Hale served as an historical advisor.

It was through Hale's work with the National Endowment for the Humanities that Hale connected with Nancy Buirski, who directed The Loving Story. Working alongside other members of the academic advisory board for the film, Hale was asked to comment on the film’s use of historical fact and its contextualization by looking at the film’s script. Through this work, Hale was exposed to the unique materials that Buirski had access to – contemporary photos and videos from the Loving case. “She has the most amazing, intimate, and incredible images which in turn make the story that much more incredible,” Hale said. “Through these images the film becomes amazing. It is not only such a significant and important story in southern history, it is also a artfully done documentary.”

Hale was hired by the University in 1997 with the unenviable task of replacing distinguished and beloved history professor Paul Gaston, who was then retiring. Hale’s first book, which examines the cultural history of segregation, led to a natural fit for teaching the 20th Century U.S. South course. Working alongside then Dean Ed Ayers, who also served as an advisor for The Loving Story, Hale helped introduce the American Studies program into the College of Arts & Sciences curriculum. She now directs the major.

The Loving Story was broadcast on HBO on February 14, 2012 and is airing again this month. It tells the story of Richard and Mildred Loving and follows the couple and their young ACLU lawyers as they prepare for the landmark 1967 Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case. It was screened at the Virginia Film Festival in 2011.

Learn more:

The Loving Story Website ~ The Loving Story Trailer ~ Grace Hale ~ UVA American Studies


The College & Graduate School of Arts & Sciences